Tuesday, May 15, 2007

New Virginia Civil Rights Memorial for Capitol grounds

Michael Hardy covered an announcement made yesterday by Gov. Tim Kaine for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A $2.6 million project, which is being financed by private donations, will result in the installation of a new monument on the Capitol grounds next year.

“A civil-rights monument on Capitol Square will break the race barrier among the many sculptures honoring Virginia leaders on the grounds of the state Capitol. Additionally, the large sculpture, surrounded by bronze figures from the Prince Edward County school-desegregation battle in the 1950s, will not be a static monument but a reminder that more needs to be done on behalf of equality. A depiction of the sculpture was made public yesterday.

“The four-sided memorial will feature 18 bronze figures showing Prince Edward’s Moton High School protesters, modern-day blacks and whites walking together and civil-rights pioneer the Rev. L. Francis Griffin, who led the community campaign. It will also depict Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood Robinson III, the lead attorneys in the case included in the Supreme Court’s five Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decisions in 1954...”

Click here to read the entire RT-D piece.

In January of 2002, the youngest daughter of Virginia’s 69th governor, Mark Warner, noticed that among the six statues honoring people on the grounds of what would be her yard for the next four years, there were no statues honoring a female. Nor were there any remembering significant figures of the Civil Rights Era. She asked her mother, Lisa Collis, why.

Collis started to thinking, which eventually led Virginia’s then-First Lady to consult with others to help fill in some of the gaps in Virginia history her child had found in the statuary of Capitol Square. Now the new monument mentioned above is in the works -- the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

The sculpture by Stanley Bleifeld will commemorate a 1951 student demonstration which was led by a 16-year-old girl named Barbara Johns. To protest the deplorable conditions in which they found themselves at Robert R. Moten School, an all-black school in Farmville, students staged a “walk-out.” Although it was change they were seeking, those brave students had no way of knowing where their peaceful demonstration’s walk would lead. Much of the worst violence of the Civil Rights Era was still to come.

Nonetheless, they took those first steps. Eventually, the students were joined by civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson. Together, those determined Virginians wrote an inspiring chapter of the commonwealth’s history that this new monument will remember for all to see, upon its unveiling next summer. By the way, the 100-year-old Hill was on hand at the governor’s announcement yesterday.

Click here to visit the web site of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial’s foundation. Once there, you can see a preview of what the Bleifeld sculpture will look like and learn more about how this all came about.

Click here to read more about Barbara Johns. And, here.

Click here to go to artist Stanley Bleifeld’s site.

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